“The grunt type call is something that is natural to all deer,” explained Rutledge. “Sure bucks get active and grunt a lot when the rut gets near but all deer especially Whitetails will make some sort of grunting noise,” he added. (Whitetails are the most vocal and the most commonly hunted species so we are gearing this toward them.) Alex admitted that although a grunt call can work any day of the year, its more effective when the days get shorter, the weather cooler and the bucks more aggressive.
Before we go too far, I wanted to ensure that hunters understood the most commonly made mistake. When questioned Alex mentioned that most hunters blow the call too loud which can and does spook a lot of deer. “Its important to only blow the call loud enough for the deer to hear it,” he advised. Blowing louder than necessary may spook a buck that knows it doesn’t sound natural. Start out with low volume sounds and increase the noise until you witness the deer respond to the sound of the call.
Again here is where Alex gave some pertinent information. “Always watch how a deer reacts to the call,” he stated. The body language will provide a lot of valuable information to the hunter. For instance, should the buck immediately look your direction, with his ears up and neck strained, he is definitely interested. On the other hand should he duck his tail between his legs and glance around you know his isn’t the “boss” of those woods. If you blow the call and see nothing its probable the deer did not hear the call. Then and only then blow harder until the deer gives some sort of reaction.
Another great thing about really observing the deer’s actions is that they will clue the hunter in on several items. Often a doe or small buck will give the tell tale sign that a bigger buck is around by looking in the direction the bigger deer is coming from. They might also stop short when approaching your stand and stall out waiting on the dominant buck to arrive. Should this happen, simply pay attention to the signs and call to the larger hidden buck.
As stated earlier, the bucks get more aggressive as the rut gets closer. Remember this when making grunt sounds. Don’t blow long, loud, aggressive grunts and expect early season bucks to appear. Tune down the calling early in the game, and only grunt when you can visually see a deer. The HS staff believes that most deer in all but the thickest cover can hear a grunt call around one hundred to one hundred and fifty yards away. This of course depends on background noise, wind, and other factors, but keep that in mind. If you can see a deer generally you can call to him.
As the season progresses and hunter begin to notice more rubs, scrapes and activity, turn up the calling a notch. No is the time to begin “blind calling” to deer. Pre-rut is when the grunt call is very effective. “Get aggressive with that call,” is the advice Alex gives. Don’t blow it like a tuba, but put some emotion into the call and act like a buck that is starting to get excited.
When the bucks start chasing does, its time to really get serious. A grunt call and rattling antlers are tools of the trade for hunters like Rutledge. He does a lot of rattling with a HS Rattling Bag while at the same time blowing his grunt call. He’s trying to imitate two bucks sparing, grunting, and then the weaker buck getting run off. Quite often he’ll begin the performance by making a snort, sniff, wheeze sound that is sort of like a buck announcing “I’ll knock your liver loose” to the other buck. If there is a dominant buck in the area get ready because he won’t often stand for that type of behavior in his neck of the woods.
Once the rut gets into full swing, bucks can get un-predictable. They lose their regular routine, and often let their guard down. Yet, they can also occasionally get immune to everything but chasing a really hot doe down. In this situation, Rutledge has another trick up his sleeve. “When a buck has his head down and trotting through the area without heeding your rattling or grunting, try this little trick,” he said with a smile. “Remember during turkey season, when nothing else works to get the attention of that big gobbler, a Jake gobble will often do the trick,” added the pro. Most adult bucks (like gobblers) do not want a juvenile buck breeding “their does”. That thought makes them blow their top so to speak, and they will often come running in to show that young buck who sits at the top of the pecking order. Should you decide to try this tactic be prepared to shoot right away, since the dominant buck may come in on a run looking for the “punk” who is challenging his authority.
Occasionally Rutledge also employs a variation of all of these methods. Its something he refers to as “call walking”. He practices this tactic only on private property and where he is very familiar with the stand set up and the terrain. As he begins to approach his stand, Alex kicks leaves, blows his grunt call, and actually trots a bit to simulate a buck in a haste to get somewhere. The trick is that once the hunter gets to the stand location, he needs to quickly climb up and prepare for action. “Several times I have had other bucks try and intercept me, thinking I am a buck who might be trailing a doe,” laughs our expert. “Be ready to shoot right away,” he added. If you think about it, it’s no different than seeing people hustling down the sidewalk. Curiosity gets the best of the deer or us and the thought pops into mind, “where is that guy going?” You get the idea.
Later after the rut wears down, Rutledge again lowers the intensity of his calling. He goes back to the contact type grunts he utilized early in the season but will often grunt at any buck he can see. Again pay close attention to the deer’s body language and respond to what the reactions he gives you. If he gets nervous, tone it down but if he seems interested dish out some more of what worked. Attention to details will often provide a late season opportunity.
As you can see there is more to grunt calling than meets the eye. There is a prime time (pun intended) to call and call aggressively and a wrong time. Try a few of these tips this fall on your favorite stand. It might just stack the deck in your favor!
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